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Aidan Baker, "Liminoid/Lifeforms"

cover imageUnlike previous solo efforts, here Baker is flanked by a concentrated orchestra, propelling his demur drones into consonant and complete compositions. The result is an album of staggering growth as Baker explores the elegant side of drone and the filth of classical percussion and strings that not only established Baker as an innovator but as a inventive curator of drone and its many variants.

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Aidan Baker - Liminoid / Lifeforms

Above all else, Liminoid/Lifeforms is a definitive statement. Baker clearly states his objective with the first few notes of “Liminoid Part I,” never wavering from his desire to capture the elements of classical and romantic composition with modern techniques. The result is an album that is warm; thick with texture and sonic craftsmanship. Albums with this much attention to detail often crumble under the weight of expectation but Baker has nothing to atone for once the final note of “Lifeforms” fades into the abyss.

The greatest accomplishment of Baker’s foray into the classical is in its simplicity. Much like the great masters of composition, Baker is never afraid to do too much by doing too little. Each of the four parts that comprise “Liminoid” joins seamlessly. Not until the soaring vocals of “Liminoid (Part IV)” can we begin to notice how Baker has carefully flirted with the grandiose by indulging it so completely. The subtle hints of cello and violin coupled with the restrained guitars and percussion are slow to reveal themselves as something more than Baker’s usual fare. “Liminoid (Part IV)” becomes the unveiling of Baker’s masterpiece; when the quiet decoration that has been painstakingly built for 22-minutes engulfs the classical philosophy in a fiery pillar of modern ingenuity. In spite of its ambitious nature, the whole of “Liminoid” does not falter for even a single note. This is proof that experimental music can be manipulated using the principles of Romanticism without compromising the chaos theory and fringe accessibility that has found deep roots in various genres.

After the breathtaking beauty of “Liminoid,” Baker risks toppling his opus with the sedentary drone of “Lifeforms.” Yet the risk is well worth it, providing the perfect counterpoint to elegance of “Liminoid” while also proving to be its mirror—albeit of the warped, funhouse variety. Where “Liminoid” was poised and polite, “Lifeforms” is a test of patience and will. It maintains the grace of its segmented lead-in but the restraint of “Liminoid” is replaced with rambunctiousness. “Lifeforms” isn’t abrasive but a piece built on dissonance and misplacement. Its parts, unlike “Liminoid,” are those of worn jigsaw puzzles; connections don’t fit as they should, the tabs are frayed beyond recognition, and there are holes from missing pieces. In this there is a majesty that admirers of “The Ugly Duckling” (and its ilk) will appreciate. “Lifeforms,” when held against “Liminoid,” will seem the tremorring visage; but as a mirror and a companion, it divulges the secrets of success found within “Liminoid,” while annihilating the measuring stick of beauty used for far too long.

The labeling of Liminoid/Lifeforms as a high form of art may be a bit of hyperbole but within Aidan Baker’s classical excursion, there are far too many gems of old and new to call it anything else. Over the course of one hour, Baker builds a sturdy bridge over a crevice that once relied on the likes of John Cage and Terry Riley as its architects. Old world beauty and futuristic tones can work as one, creating music that is as challenging as it is universal.

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Review of the Day

DEVENDRA BANHART, "REJOICING IN THE HANDS"
Young God
He possesses the unkempt street-hustler looks of Vincent Gallo, the psychotic vulnerability of Syd Barrett, the spooked lonesomeness of Skip Spence, the instrumental dexterity of Robin Williamson, the naïve sincerity of Tiny Tim, and a voice that sounds like a cross between Marc Bolan's early T. Rex warble and the evocative wail of Karen Dalton. After his superlative debut Oh Me Oh My..., many were quick to heap praise on Devendra Banhart, hailing the 23-year old singer-songwriter as a peerlessly original voice. With such obvious musical precedents for Banhart's intimate, acoustic songcraft, this adulation seems a bit overstated. Despite what has been said, Devendra Banhart hasn't reinvented the wheel. He has, however, used his considerable lyrical and melodic gifts to create a handful of idiosyncratic recordings that speak volumes for his songwriting talent. Oh Me Oh My... was immediately distinctive not only because of Banhart's quavering vocal delivery and incredible fingerstyle, but also because of its willfully low-budget recording aesthetic; the songs were self-recorded live-to-tape on sub-par cassette recorders, Dictaphones and answering machines. Two years on, Devendra Banhart has achieved a modicum of success, championed by Michael Gira, with a home on his Young God label. Although Banhart and Gira could easily have opted for an artificially studied recreation of the low-fidelity distortion and tape hiss of the demo reel, the right choice was made on Rejoicing in the Hands to present the performer in a simple, clean studio recording. The tracks on this new album sound every bit as live and spontaneous as the Oh Me Oh My... sessions, but the technical advantages of the studio recording highlight every velvety pluck of the guitar strings and every nuanced vibration of Devendra's labored vocals. Because these songs are refreshingly free of extraneous debris and contain only minimal, unobtrusive backing, Rejoicing is a marvelous showcase for Banhart's songs and performances. Each track is a miniature masterpiece; few exceed the three-minute mark, but each has the immediacy and resonance of déjà vu, as if Banhart was pulling from some vast collective-subconscious archive of archetypal sing-along folk melodies. His lyrical themes are fascinating as always, strange re-combinations of dime-store mysticism, humorous reverie and the odd fanciful passage of surreal wordplay. On the title track, he is joined by the legendary Vashti Bunyan, the elusive songstress who recorded the acid-folk classic Just Another Diamond Day and promptly disappeared from view. Their lovely duet is an affectionate homage to the placid simplicity of the 60's British folk revival. - 

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